We know now that marijuana has been used in one form or another by humans for at least 12,000 years. There is also evidence that we have used cannabis to get ‘high’ for at least 4,000 years (when used in Ancient China), and the herb only became illegal in many places around the world in the early 20th century.
The term ‘stoner’ is even more recent. There is some debate as to the precise origin of the word, used to describe someone who is high because of weed. Some people believe it originates in the 1930s, while others suggest it only came into being during the 1950s. By the 1970s, ‘stoner’ was used as a noun to imply that the individual in question has definitely been stoned in the past, and will be again in the future due to their dependence on cannabis.
It has been known as a derogatory term during its brief history, although there are signs that there is a reduction in public belief of the negative stereotypes associated with the term. Traditionally, a ‘stoner’ was someone who was reliant on weed and was an addict in training. Also, stoners were said to be high all the time, and incapable of performing tasks to a high level. Instead, they were perceived as ‘lazy’ individuals with no goals or dreams.
As it happens, there has been a myriad of successful ‘stoners’, such as Steve Jobs. In any case, the stoner lifestyle has also changed during the last half century or so.
The Halcyon Days
In many ways, the first famous ‘stoner’ lived over a century before the term was brought into the English language. Fitz Hugh Ludlow was a New York writer known for publishing articles about his experiences with the herb, way back in 1856! Marijuana made its way into mass culture during the 1920s and 1930s, but users were forced underground after the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made weed illegal.
Poets such as Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs relied on weed (along with many other drugs) for inspiration during the 1950s. However, the 1960s is arguably the first decade to be routinely associated with cannabis. It was an era of vast social change, but the stereotypes associated with stoners at this time have persisted ever since.
Although Cheech and Chong popularized the ‘stoner’ lifestyle in the 70s, the Maynard G. Krebs character from The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, a sitcom that ran from 1959 to 1963, was arguably the first TV stoner. Krebs was depicted as a ‘beatnik’ who hated authority, shirked responsibility, and loathed employment. This caricature of a work-shy ‘bum’ has unfortunately retained its association with weed to the present day.
The 1970s was more of the same, as ‘stoners’ were also associated with the anti-Vietnam war movement. Although the conflict was a disaster, those who protested against it were often met with police batons and occasionally bullets. At this time, the perception of a ‘stoner’ was of someone who smoked weed in dark corners, had long hair, wore tie-dyed shirts, avoided work, and hated bathing.
While there were certainly weed users who fitted neatly into this box, the reality is that many ‘stoners’ were well aware of the worthlessness of the Vietnam war long before most of the general public. The Cheech and Chong combination only hammered home the stereotypes, and it was a hard life for people who liked the weed. They couldn’t confess to their usage because it was illegal and because cannabis had so many negative connotations. It was only going to get worse because, in the 1980s, the gap between the reality of stoners and the commonly painted picture grew larger than ever before.
Driven Deeper Underground
The stoner lifestyle was the polar opposite of the ‘Greed is Good’ era that gobbled up the United States, and most ‘Westernized’ nations, in the 1980s. It was all about Wall Street, Filofaxes, sharp suits, business, and a ton of cocaine. It was also a BAD time to be a stoner because, under President Reagan’s tenure, American prisons filled up with non-violent offenders. A joint was considered as bad as a line of cocaine, and stoners were still seen as societal parasites.
Marijuana’s popularity was arguably at an all-time low by the end of the 1980s. The famous Bill and Ted characters are clearly stoners, yet the movie doesn’t depict them as such. Perhaps the makers were too frightened to associate the two dopey pals with the herb in what was meant to be a mainstream comedy.
The 1990s saw a resurgence in the use of marijuana, as musicians such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg readily associated themselves with the herb. Suddenly, there was a slight recognition amongst the public that stoners could become successful in life. Movies that popularized weed include Dazed and Confused, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and The Big Lebowski.
Oddly enough, it is the latter film that helped shift public opinion. While the main characters were slackers, several other people in the movie used the herb for creative purposes, and also as a medicine. By now, marijuana had been legalized as medicine in the state of California, as the stoner lifestyle finally made steps towards infiltrating the mainstream.
The 21st century has seen a seismic shift in the perception of the stoner lifestyle. No longer is weed overwhelmingly associated with jobless fools. Today, marijuana is used by millions of Americans for a variety of reasons. There are physicians, chemists, financial advisors, stay at home moms, and even American Presidents who use cannabis, or have admitted to doing so in the past.
All of a sudden, the public is seeing that ‘stoners’ can be everyday people. Your next-door neighbor could be a stoner, as could your work colleagues, your boss, or even your siblings. Being a ‘stoner’ no longer means getting high, staying on the sofa for hours on end eating pizza, and doing your best not to work, or shower.
In the modern era, people use marijuana regularly for a host of reasons. Maybe they have a debilitating medical condition. Perhaps they are deeply stressed out because they work long hours. For others, cannabis is a suitable replacement for alcohol.
All of these people have careers, aspirations, and normal personal hygiene! The tech industry is a hive of activity and innovation. Guess what? These guys smoke marijuana like a 1960s hippie! Cannabis is more abundant (and potent) than ever before, and is also becoming legal in more states as the years pass by. As a result, there is no sneaking around at night trying to buy Mexican brick weed from a shady dealer. Instead, you can smoke a joint, take hits from a bong, or use a vaporizer to get high at home with no fear of arrest.
There is a school of thought that the term ‘stoner’ should be eliminated from the lexicon entirely. Why? Because it still brings up thoughts of hippies from the past, rather than the reality which is that highly successful people use weed too. The sooner marijuana stops being associated with the negativity of the past, the sooner it can become entirely legal.